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More Maine drug deaths in 2019 than 2018; 16% increase in deaths due to non-pharmaceutical drugs

Deaths due to opioids totaled 318, a 12% increase in number compared to 2018.

MAINE, USA — The Maine Attorney General's Office released its Drug Death Report for 2019 on Friday, which provides a summary of statistics regarding drug fatalities in the state.

A drug death is identified when one or more drugs are mentioned on a person's death certificate as a cause or significant contributing factor to his or her death.

The report found that drug deaths totaled 380 in 2019, a 7% increase over 354 in 2018, but still lower than the 417 peak in 2017. Of these 380, 84% were caused by opioids, nearly always in combination with other drugs or alcohol. 

“Substance use disorder is a challenging, complicated disease. There is no quick or easy cure. Instead, it requires enduring treatment and sustained support – which my Administration will continue to provide,” Governor Janet Mills said in a statement. “We will continue to put the full force of this Administration behind conquering this disease, supporting the families who have lost loved ones, the businesses who have lost valued employees, and all the communities that have been diminished by this public health crisis. This epidemic grew over a long, long time, and it will take a long, long time to defeat it and make our state whole again.”

According to the report, the increase over 2018 was largely driven by a 16% rise in deaths due to non-pharmaceutical drugs, primarily fentanyl, fentanyl analogs, as well as cocaine and methamphetamine. 

The number of deaths due to non-pharmaceutical opioids with or without cointoxicant pharmaceutical opioids increased from 200 to 253 (26%), whereas the number due to pharmaceutical opioids without non-pharmaceutical opioids declined from 52 to 48 (8%). 

“These data reinforce the fact that substance use disorder is a relentless disease that is still taking the lives of too many Maine people,” Gordon Smith, Director of Opioid Response, said. “Our devotion to helping Mainers achieve and maintain long-term recovery must be just as relentless. With our community partners, we will continue to strengthen prevention, treatment, and recovery efforts and identify new ways, especially during the challenges posed by COVID-19, to support Maine people in recovery and their families.”

The report also notes the following patterns in 2019:

  •  Most (323, 85%) drug deaths were caused by two or more drugs. This is greater in number and percent than in 2018 (283, 80%). The average cause of death involved three drugs. 
  • Deaths due to opioids totaled 318 (84%), a 12% increase in number compared to 2018 (283, 80%). 
  • Deaths due to non-pharmaceutical opioids such as illicit fentanyl and heroin totaled 268 (70% of all deaths and 84% of opioid deaths), a 16% increase compared to 2018 levels (231, 65% of all deaths and 82% of opioid deaths).
  • Deaths due to pharmaceutical opioids totaled 96 (30% of opioid deaths), a 23% increase in number compared to 2018 (78, 28% of opioid deaths).
  •  Fentanyl and its analogs caused 259 deaths (81% of opioid deaths), a 19% increase in number compared to 2018 (217, 77% of opioid deaths).
  •  Heroin caused 73 deaths (19% of opioid deaths), about the same number as in 2018 (74, 26% of opioid deaths). 
  • Cocaine-involved deaths totaled 110 (29% of drug deaths), a 22% increase in number compared to 2018 (90, 25% of drug deaths). Cocaine is a co-intoxicant in 34% of fentanyl deaths and 36% of heroin deaths. 
  • Deaths involving methamphetamine totaled 47, an 81% increase from 26 in 2018. 

More information, including specific drugs and demographic patterns, can be found in the full report below.

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